RUNNING A LUNCH COUNTER

For some minutes the absurdity of the situation scarcely dawned upon
Dorothy. But the screeching of an approaching train promptly reminded
her of her newly-acquired duties.

“Suppose the passengers should want papers,” she thought. “I had better
look at the bundles.”

An old man thrust his face in under the wooden flap that was up in the
day time, and put down at night.

“A good cup of coffee, and quick there!” he demanded. “I have got to
get away ahead of that train.”

Dorothy turned to the big coffee urn, and for the first time noticed
that there was a fire under it.

The next thing Dorothy did was to look at the man who had given her
the first order at the improvised restaurant. He was smiling at her–a
frank, pleasant smile, that had in it not the least suggestion of
familiarity.

“Well?” he asked questioningly. “Did I startle you?”

“Not exactly,” was her answer. “That is–well, I’m not really used to
this sort of work, and—-”

“You don’t know how to run that machine–isn’t that it?” he asked,
nodding brightly. “Confess now, that you don’t know how to get coffee
out of it.”

“That’s it,” said Dorothy with an air of relief that he had divined her
trouble. “There are so many attachments to it that I really don’t know
which one to turn to get the coffee out.”

“In the first place,” spoke the man, “is there coffee in it?”

“I think so.”

“I mean coffee with water on it–coffee to drink?”

“Yes, the young lady who runs it, and who had to get off in a hurry to
deliver a message, said so.”

“Good! That’s one point solved. Now then, there is no question but what
the coffee is hot. I can see the alcohol flame under it. The next thing
is how to get it out.”

“I believe so,” agreed Dorothy with a smile. “Suppose I turn this
faucet.”

“No, don’t!” cried the man suddenly. “It may not be the right one, and
you might scald yourself. Let me come in and maybe I can find the right
thing to twist.”

“No! Don’t!” exclaimed Dorothy.

“Why not? ’Fraid I might get burned? I don’t mind.”

“No, it isn’t that,” and she was conscious of a movement under the
counter.

“Well, then, is it because you think I don’t know how to run that
machine? I confess that I haven’t a working knowledge of it. A planing
mill is more in my line. Now if you were to ask me to get you out so
many feet of inch pine, tongue and groove, or something like that, I
could do it in no time, but I will admit that getting coffee out of a
contraption like that is a little beyond me. An old fashioned pot is
simpler. Still, if I came behind, I might help you.”

He made a motion as if he were coming in.

“Don’t!” cried Dorothy again, and the dog growled.

“Oh, I see,” said the man. “He doesn’t like strangers. Well, maybe
I can help you from outside here. I’ve no desire to be made into
mincemeat so early in the morning.”

“What shall I do?” asked Dorothy, rather helplessly.

“About the dog?”

“No, about this coffee urn. What shall I turn first?”

“Try that faucet there,” suggested the man, pointing to the largest
one, of a number that adorned the shining bit of machinery.

Dorothy did so, forgetting to hold a cup under it. A stream of cold
water spurted out.

“Wrong guess!” exclaimed the man. “I might have known, too. There’s a
glass gage there, and I can see water in it now. I should have looked
at that first. You might have been wet.”

“I’m not salt,” returned Dorothy, laughingly.

“More like sugar, I should say,” spoke the man. “Tut! Tut!” he
exclaimed, as he saw a frown pass over Dorothy’s face. “No harm
intended. Besides, I’m nearly old enough to be your father. Now about
the coffee. I really need some and I haven’t much time to spare.”

“Suppose I try this faucet?” suggested Dorothy, and she put her hand on
a second shining handle.

“Do,” begged the hungry man.

With a menacing hiss some hot water spurted out.

“Look out!” the hungry one called. “You’ll be burned!”

Dorothy got back out of the way just in time.

“There’s the right one!” the first customer exclaimed, as he pointed
to the lowest faucet of all. “If I had kept my wits about me I’d have
seen. The coffee shows in the gage glass. Besides, it’s the lowest one
down, and, naturally, the coffee goes to the bottom of the urn. Try
that one.”

Dorothy did, but there was no welcoming stream of the juice of the
aromatic berry. She was beginning to get nervous.

“The other way,” directed the man. “It’s one of those patent faucets, I
guess. Turn it the other way.”

She did so, and a brown stream, hot and fragrant, trickled out. It
splashed on the board counter.

“I guess you’d better take a cup,” said the man with a smile. “We’ve
found the right place this time, and there’s no use wasting the coffee.
Sorry I’ve been such a bother, but I really would use a cup.” Dorothy
laughed frankly. Her nervousness was passing away.

On a side shelf of the queer little restaurant she saw that the
iron-china cups were piled up. She reached for one, filled it with the
smoking coffee, and handed it to the man outside the flap.

“Sandwich!” he demanded. “This coffee makes a fellow want to eat,
instead of quenching his appetite.”

Dorothy looked around and smelled ham. The bread was in a box, and
almost fell at her feet as she searched for it.

“Plenty of mustard,” demanded the customer, and this time the strange
waitress began to think she would fail to fill the order.

“I can’t seem to find the mustard,” she said lamely.

“You’re a stranger here then? I thought the other one had a different
head on her,” replied the man, who was now helping himself to the loaf
of bread that Dorothy had laid down preparing to cut it. “Well, I think
I can find that mustard,” and he turned to the little side door. As he
did so the big black dog growled again and barred his way inside the
shanty.

“He’s tied,” said Dorothy, “but I think it will be best for me to look
on the shelf there, where the canned goods are. Yes, it’s here,” and
she brought down a big yellow bottle of sandwich-flavoring stuff.

“Here, I’ll cut the ham. I’ve got to get away. I’m late now,” and he
proceeded to “cut the ham” after the manner in which he had attacked
the bread. Dorothy was afraid she had made a great mistake. There would
be nothing left for the train people if he kept on.

Finally he managed to get another cup of coffee, he poured the
condensed milk into it thick and fast, then he asked;

“How much?”

“I really don’t know,” Dorothy replied, “but if you have been in the
habit of eating here just whatever you always pay will do.”

“Guess you had better charge it then,” he said, and before she had
time to reply he was off down the track, wiping his mouth with his red
handkerchief as he went.




“This is not just my sort of position,” mused Dorothy, cleaning up the
refuse left on the counter. “I hope I won’t have to pay the damages.”

The incoming train left her no further time for reflection, for, as it
pulled in and stopped at the station, a crowd of men, evidently night
workers, scrambled for the lunch counter.

“Coffee and rolls!”

“Coffee and cheese cake!”

“Coffee and franks for me!”

“Coffee! coffee! coffee!”

Dorothy was actually frightened. These men wanted breakfast, and had
only a few minutes in which to get it. How could she wait on them?

Long arms were reached inside the open window, and cups and saucers
brought down to wait for the coffee.

“I’m not the girl who–who–runs this place,” Dorothy said, timidly,
as one very rough-looking man shouted again his order. “I only stepped
in to–watch the place, until the other girl gets back. I do wish she
would come,” and, filling a big pitcher with the coffee from the urn
she placed it before the hungry men.

“But we can’t eat again until noon,” declared a big fellow, who spoke
with the unmistakable Maine tang, “and this joint is run special for
car men. I’ll have them folks reported,” and he brought his hand down
on the counter so that the heavy cups danced.

“Oh, please don’t do that!” begged Dorothy, “for the young lady said
her father was ill, and I am sure something important has detained her.
I will do the very best I can.”

The train blew a warning whistle. Dorothy put everything she could
find on the counter. “I’ll pay for it if I have to,” she was thinking.
“Certainly I must avoid–a panic.”

A young man, well dressed, was coming along now. Her heart gave a great
bound. What would he want?

She turned to put more water in the coffee urn.

“Have you the morning papers?” asked the newcomer.

His voice made her start. She turned and faced–Mr. Armstrong!

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to unwrap the papers,” she said, blushing
furiously. “Isn’t this dreadful, Mr. Armstrong?”

“Surprising, I’m sure,” he replied, smiling. “You have more than your
hands full.”

Dorothy tried to explain, but her confusion was now more than
excitement–it was akin to collapse.

“Perhaps I could help you,” suggested her friend of the bridge-bound
train. “I am not in a hurry. Mother is on ahead, and I can wait for the
next accommodation.”

“Oh, if you only would! I cannot find anything more to eat,” and she
brushed back her hair, in lieu of rolling up her sleeves.

“You can’t go in there,” growled one of the train men. “There’s a dog
that don’t like dudes.”

Another toot, and the men rushed off, half emptied cups in hand,
sandwiches in pocket, and the rack of pastry left empty, inside the
counter, where it had fallen as the last pie was grabbed from its wires.

“The cups,” called Dorothy. “They are taking them away!”

“Don’t worry about that,” Mr. Armstrong told her. “Likely they will
toss them out the car windows. They’re that sort that never breaks. But
I’m glad they’re gone. You look quite done out.”

“And just think! I have been away from the hall for the past hour. They
will think I’m drowned, or lost or—-”

“Eloped,” finished the young man. “Well, I’m sure you did this to help
someone, and if your success as a lunch counter manager is doubtful,
no one could criticise your courage. Now, you had better shut this
place up, before another avalanche swoops down, and, if you don’t mind,
I’ll walk along with you. I can get the seven-ten easily, and have the
pleasure of an early walk. To be honest, travelling on that train was
not altogether pleasant.”

“I certainly must get back,” Dorothy replied. “But how am I to lock
this place up? I do wish that girl would come back.”

She looked anxiously over the hills. There was a wheel coming. Yes, and
that was the girl, with the blue suit.

“Oh, there she comes!” went on Dorothy. “Whatever will she think of
this wreck and ruin?”

“From remarks I heard among the trainmen she may be glad they got
coffee,” said Mr. Armstrong.

The bicycle had stopped now. The girl jumped off, and hurried to
Dorothy.

“Oh,” she sighed, “I am so sorry I kept you so long, but father is so
ill!” and they noticed that, in spite of the exertion of riding, she
was very pale.

“I’m afraid I didn’t do very well,” ventured Dorothy.

“That train was the track foreman’s. It was all right; no matter what
you did as long as you kept the window open,” said the girl gratefully.
“But I am afraid I have gotten you into trouble. Do you go to Glenwood?”

“Yes,” replied Dorothy.

“I thought so. Well, the young ladies are looking for you. I heard one
say—-”

She stopped suddenly, looking at Mr. Armstrong.

“What?” asked Dorothy, but no direct answer was given, for school girls
were seen coming over the hill, and it was Jean Faval who was first to
hail the finding of Dorothy, and she, also, who first reported that she
was in the company of a young man!